Thought for the Day: October 1, 2008
If the words, "when I die," are attached to many of our ambitions their
absurdity will become apparent. For example, "I want to be rich (when I
die,") "I want to be famous (when I die,") "I want to be attractive (when I
die,") and so on and so forth. The problem does not lie in the ambition itself,
for there is nothing wrong with them in an essential way. The problem is
that they are ambitions.
Thought for the Day: October 2, 2008
"Let all your thoughts commit suicide;" that is how to release yourself of
poisonous thoughts. If you don't give them energy, disturbing thoughts and
emotions will engineer their own demise. Don't follow them; don't try to get
rid of them.
Thought for the Day: October 3, 2008
Once in Nepal a young monk acquaintance of mine, Tsumpa," asked me
about some massage oil he had gotten. The label was in English and it had a
picture of the legendary body builder Steve Reeves on the label. Tsumpa, who
didn't read English, was wondering if he would get to look like Steve Reeves
if he rubbed the oil on himself. Needless to say, he was disappointed by the
answer, but not for long; a moment later he was off chasing monkeys, leaving
the oil behind.
It is tempting sometimes, especially for those new on the path, to impute
some magic power on mantras, initiations, and sacred teachings, hoping that
they will work their magic upon us without first leading us into an inner
struggle that will inevitably lead to large personal sacrifice for a little bit of
Thought for the Day: October 6, 2008
The practice of the dharma is often difficult in the beginning because we have
the notion of "doing" so strongly ingrained. Conflict arises when we want our
way; and that leads to a practice whereby we "do" whatever is necessary to
have our way and practice the dharma. The two never go hand and hand,
however. The dharma is a stubborn companion and wants you to go the way
it wants to go. So, if you want to tag along , just give up your ideas of where
you want to go, and enjoy the trail.
Thought for the Day: October 7, 2008
Giving, morality, patience, and other "mind trainings" are disciplines, not ends in
themselves. It is important to bear this in mind to avoid the pitfalls that come from
mistaking the means for the end. The object of giving, for example, is to become
generous; but no matter how much we give, it doesn't necessarily follow that we
are generous. The same is true for morality. If, for example we are celibate, or a
faithful partner, it does not necessarily follow that we are not obstructed by
thoughts of sexual desire. The goal of discipline is to remove the underlying causes
that make it necessary. If we cling to the form of the discipline and confuse it with
the result, it will only lead to frustration. Invariably, the outward form of
discipline, will lead to an inner discipline that we must follow to avoid this
frustration. The discipline of morality will lead to inner yoga to help us direct the
powerful forces that are being disciplined, etc.
Thought for the Day: October 8, 2008
Following the above example a step further, it is important to note that if the mind is properly trained;
we could experience the same food day after day and appreciate it without a diminishing experience
with the passing of time. This only requires that we free the mind from wandering to other things.
While in Nepal, I once visited a yogi living in a cave as he was preparing his meal. He had already
dropped two potatoes into the pot of boiling water that contained only that, and agonized for a
moment before he dropped in the third potato with the words, "not too much." Those three, small, red
potatoes was his meal; one that he no doubt relished many of his days in the cave. If his mind were
busy wandering about thoughts of going to Kathmandu and enjoying a variety of dishes, no doubt he
would not have been in his cave for long.
In similar manner, if we appreciate something now, we must realize that the thing that we are
appreciating is not responsible, but rather that it is our mind that is conditioning our experience. Once
this is understood, we will realize the importance of keeping the mind active and alert and to guard it
from wandering here and there, so that we may look deeper into what we are experiencing every
moment. If we can learn to uncover the many layers of our common experiences, that alone will be a
source of happiness and prevent the mind from wandering unsatisfied looking for change.
At the end of the day, if we are lucky, we might experience the richness of our daily lives as much as
the yogi and his three potatoes.
Thought for the Day: October 10, 2008
Anger, like other afflictive emotions, resides in the angry person. It does not matter whether he or she is
manifesting it at any given moment. Because the anger resides in the person, it is only a matter of time
when causes and conditions mold themselves in such a way as to bring it out. To think that a particular
person, or a certain chain of events "makes" one angry is to shift the blame away from oneself, and
place it outside. If one habitually does this, then of course the propensity to become angry will remain.
If, however, we realize that the language of the second phrase is the correct viewpoint, then we will
understand that our anger is the result of causes and conditions. We have the person with anger,
ourselves, that meets with the causes and conditions (person or events,) that cause the anger to manifest
or be "brought out."
This understanding opens the way to freeing ourselves from anger. This is done by actively looking for
anger before it manifests. This can be done in meditation through the practice of still consideration
whereby we visualize the kind of causes and conditions that might bring out our anger. We may even
become angry while doing this! This is a good thing because it is done consciously and allows us to
study it and discover its true origins, which inevitably lies within not outside.
All afflictive emotions ultimately can be traced to false views about ourselves, others, and the world we
live in. When afflictive emotions are active, they seldom respond to reason. Like an angry women in a
rage, they must be allowed to burn themselves out. However, if during the quiet and peaceful
moments of our lives, we rock the boat a little to try and find that the root of these emotions are within
ourselves, they will gradually lose their power over us.
Thought for the Day: October 14, 2008
The 'now" is not a refuge that we can step into leaving our baggage at the door. However, the baggage
itself when rightly viewed may itself become a door.
Thought for the Day: October 15, 2008
Some people when hearing everything is empty wonder how their actions could have consequences. If we
do wonder about this, it follows that we have not understood emptiness. The reward of understanding
emptiness is its own reward, and not a license to indulge.
Thought for the Day: October 16, 2008
In the beginning it is difficult to meditate and practice the many other important aspects of the path
(virtue, ethics, morality, etc.) without a sense of results in mind. This result driven practice of the path is
one of the earliest obstacles that arise for any aspirant. It is a futile exercise of mind, anyway, because the
results cannot be understood until the path is walked. I will give you an analogy. Take for example a
trekker hiking the three week trek from Lamasangu to Tengboche in the Solu Khumbu region of Nepal.
An experienced mountaineer will not busy himself with thoughts about the joy of getting there, because he
knows there is no way of correctly conceptualizing the experience without reaching his destination.
Without a mind busy with erroneous conceptualization, his days move more quickly and easily and he is
less likely to become physically and mentally fatigued. In the same way, a dharma practitioner who keeps
his attention on correct practice, rather than the goal, will be free of a very unnecessary and useless
burden. More importantly, his practice is more likely to be correct, because the obstacle of wrong
motivation is less likely to occur.
Thought for the Day: October 20, 2008
One of the most reliable indicators of correct meditation is reflected by our ability or inability to
become mentally engaged in simple everyday responsibilities or "chores." If we view "chores as
"chores," chances are good that our meditation has not taken hold (even if we think it has.)
Thought for the Day: October 21, 2008
No point looking for the peace of Nirvana while ignoring the debts of Samsara. A good teacher will
not allow a student to do this, but many don't have such an advantage.
While it is easy to place one's hopes on some world "out there," if this comes at the expense of
ignoring what is 'here" those hopes will surely be dashed. A good teacher will constantly keep a
student's worldly faults in the forefront because without eliminating them first, there is little hope of
ever walking that path.
The lessons we learn on the meditation cushion can be applied in everyday life, we all know this;
but it is also true that the lessons of life can develop our meditation, a fact often ignored. The reason
it is ignored is because the obstacles of life are seldom viewed as "spiritual" and we would rather
keep our heads in the clouds than develop the qualities of virtue, and humility, to deal with our
everyday world with the kind of integrity needed if it is to become an asset to our meditation.
A novice dharma practitioner I have known for several years would often brush off suggestions I
would make to practice more advanced teachings. He would always remind me of a debt he felt he
had to clear and other things on his conscience. It has been several years now and he is still working
on his worldly debts so that he can devote himself single mindedly to the dharma. This humble and
contrite attitude is very rare in a person who has not had the advantage of being with an
enlightened teacher. While he practices meditation daily, he keeps himself focused on the mundane
world with a view towards developing good qualities that will ultimately serve his true spiritual
aspirations. I am often inspired whenever I think of him.
Because the dharma can in many ways be viewed as metaphysical, it is very easy to create an
"imagined" idea of what true spiritual practice should be. This is one of the great dangers of the
path. Therefore, the Buddha taught the importance of developing a strong foundation of merit,
virtue, and personal integrity in the world as vital to seeing it as a manifestation of Nirvana.
Thought for the Day: October 22, 2008
The saying, "Those who fail to plan, plan to fail" is especially true of dharma practice. To use an
analogy, lets consider a house as representing enlightenment. The completed house is
enlightenment. There are many elements that go into its completion, which are very complex and
must not only be properly integrated, but must be integrated at their proper stages. A blueprint is
necessary to assure that this is done. A familiarization of the entire bluepoint is important before the
task is begun.
Similarly, the Buddha outlined a broad path to enlightenment, all elements of which are integrated
to support final realization. We must study all these elements as a homebuilder would study a
blueprint, integrating all the elements in their proper time and place to move us gradually closer to
our goal. A thorough appreciation of the complete teachings will help us avoid unnecessary
obstacles that arise if we overlook important aspects of the path.
Thought for the Day: October 23, 2008
It is easy to give rise to what the Chinese cause "fox doubts" that can derail one's dharma practice.
A fox walks timidly, as if he were on thin ice, doubting and fearing what might lie before him.
Dharma practitioners often doubt their own practice and ability, worried about doing it correctly or
whether or not the practice itself is the right one for them. These kind of doubts can consume a lot
of energy or cause one abandon practice completely.
Thought for the Day: October 25, 2008
A good friend of mine who owns several bookstores and a publishing business once hired a
homeless person to work for him. After several years that person had become a manger and was
doing quite well for himself. However, he became complacent and greedy and started stealing
from the store. A substantial amount was stolen before he was caught. However, my friend did not
fire him, but gave him another chance. I told him that he should have let him go. But, my friend
was adamant on keeping him. Sure enough a year later the fellow stole again and this time caused
more damage for the store because the theft also involved the store's customers' credit card
numbers. Again, my friend gave him another chance. I thought that merely taking him off the
streets and hiring him was already generous enough, but keeping him on after the thefts was
foolishness. But, over the two decades that we have been friends, I have noticed a pattern in the
way my friend deals with his (over one hundred) employees. He simply corrects them, sometimes
many times, where in other businesses they would have been fired. It has taken me some time to
realize that the idea behind my friends actions was not as much to teach his employees a lesson, as
to teach himself one: the lesson of tolerance.
Thought for the Day: October 26, 2008
While patience is a virtue that should be cultivated, we also want to create a way of looking at the
world that requires less of it.
Thought for the Day: October 27, 2008
If we want to live better lives ourselves, we should think about helping those countries that have
desperately needed our help for some years now. Developed countries could have avoided the
current economic crisis if they had been paying less attention to becoming better off than the
"better off" that they had already secured, and paid more attention to those who lacked the
means to achieve the basic necessities of life. Instead of thinking how to share our one dollar, we
had our eyes on two dollars. Now the one dollar is gone, and we cry. We have dug the grave of
our collective karma and will have to lie in it for some time.
As individuals we can learn from this. If we cultivate a true concern for the welfare of others and
strive to help those who are in our lives be happier and more successful, our own well being will
follow. A society formed of individuals with such an attitude will flourish, while a society of
"every man for himself" will fail.
Thought for the Day: October 28, 2008
Studying Buddhist philosophy can be a bewildering experience. Part of the reason is that often
we are baffled by a line of reasoning before we understand the problem. It is therefore essential to
make sure one understands clearly what it is that is being unraveled. One common aim of
Buddhist reasoning is to dismantle the habitual ways we misconstrue the world. For example,
Buddhism uses many lines of reasoning to refute an all pervasive, eternal, changeless, single
entity that is the cause of all things. If we haven't contemplated this object of refutation deeply
enough to see what exactly it is, and also that it is a habitual way of thinking shared by most of
us, then it will be an impossible task to understand the reasoning that refutes it. So, first we must
meditate deeply on the object of refutation, and then the reasoning that refutes it. Most
importantly, we want to see the object of refutation at work in our own mind stream; for after all,
the purpose of the refutation is to break our habitual tendencies to wrongly view the world, rather
than a merely exercise our intellect. All philosophical problems should be approached the same
way: always ask, "what the hell are they talking about?" before trying to understand the answer.
Thought for the Day: October 29, 2008
A study guide for novice Buddhist monks advises, "Don't sweep against the wind." This isn't a
Zen koan, but genuine advice about how to properly sweep the monastic grounds. I cannot help
but wonder how many monks who passed over these instructions as too obvious to be given
serious attention, ended up with dirt in their face. I know I have.
Every day we make "silly" mistakes; silly in the sense that we knew better. Often these mistakes
are inconsequential and can be easily corrected. But, the underlying reason we make these
"silly" mistakes is of great consequence: lack of mindfulness. It is because simple tasks are
useful mirrors of our mindfulness, that the Buddha placed great emphasis on doing them
properly and with full attention.
Thought for the Day: October 30, 2008
An enthusiasm to answer all your questions is the mark of an unqualified teacher.